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The Definition of Social Media is Not Important

Definition of Social MediaIt must be a slow news day when you see rhetorical questions and arguments concerning semantics as fodder for blog posts. Is Twitter a social network or a broadcasting platform? Is Instagram a social network? Is Social Media a vocation? What makes media social? Sometimes people will even go as far to try and define social media. You know a blog post is going to end up right where it started when it begins with a definition…


Webster’s online dictionary defines Social as being of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society. It defines Media as a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression. So Social Media can logically be defined as a medium of expression relating to human society, and the interaction of an individual and the group, right? Well, that sounds to me like the definition of a Sociology newsletter. Webster’s online dictionary doesn’t agree with that either; they define social media as forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content. Sounds a little more like Facebook right?


Will That Be On the Test?

Higher learning is great, but the people who are searching for social media education have little use for an argument about whether or not an application can be called a social network. Social Media is a broad term that can refer to blogs, forums, networks, games, chats, and a ton of other applications that allow users to generate or contribute to a pool of content. Stumbleupon is considered a social network by most users because it has a feature that allows you to add friends. It’s familiar; you can add friends on MySpace and Facebook. In this case, ignorance is bliss. While we’re arguing over whether Stumbleupon is a social network by the classical definition, millions of users are stumbling great content and enjoying themselves.


So with that in mind, here is my contribution to the “What is Social Media?” discussion. Social Media is not a place; it’s a state of being. It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, and a pronoun.


As a noun, social media comprises the “new” type of media that you can actually interact with, propagated through the Internet. As a verb, social media is what you do when you sit at a computer creating that content, or scroll through a Facebook news feed. What are your hobbies Jim? “I like swimming, reading, mountain biking, and social media!” As an adjective, social describes the media that provides a deeper connection among peers. As a pronoun, we’ll often use it to refer to the catalog of content a particular brand has created on a specific platform. Facebook is social media, and social media can be used in place of Facebook or Twitter in a variety of context.


It’s a broad term used in many ways to describe activities and networks that are related to the same thing. It will never be boiled down into something more tangible. It’s not exact. There’s a lot of room for interpretation because it’s a compound word that was coined at a time when many people had little idea of how important and far reaching the things it represents would be. Like Web 2.0. No one even knew what it meant until after it happened. Now, most of the people who use it still don’t know what it means. It doesn’t keep them from participating in Web 2.0 applications, and it doesn’t hinder the results they can get from it.


Is Social Media a Vocation?

Is social media a vocation? Not like welding is a vocation, but it is becoming an increasingly accurate descriptor for a large category of jobs in the fields of digital marketing and public relations. There are humans who get paid to manage the social media accounts of brands – forget ROI, a polished social media presence is becoming mandatory. Social Media Today has a social media job board, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand what someone means when they say they work in social media. They’re basically a community manager whose channels are comprised of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.


I know tons of people who identify their profession as community management. They usually preside over a third party network or a forum, but when someone is a social media manager you know you’ll find them on their company’s Facebook group and Twitter account. Since social media is a verb (something you do) that is worthy of compensation (a paycheck), how is it not a job? Can a job never be a career? Can a career never be referred to as a vocation?


Unless… You are Interested in Entymology

If you are interested in the semantic nomenclature, I suggest looking to educators and some older published materials. Andreas Kaplan, Michael Haenlein, and J.H. Kietzmann each contributed empirical pieces that look at fundamental building blocks and classification of popular social media channels. If you want to help business owners get a handle on using social media, talk about things that matter. Teach them a unique strategy you’ve proven to be useful or discuss the implications of using swear words in content associated with their brand. What is the best real estate on their blog for a call to action? Is there a tool that addresses a comprehensive solution to resolving customer complaints?


If you ask me to use social media in a sentence as a verb, you need to go attend a language conference. Not because you don’t understand proper English use (you’re obviously better than me. I tried to use it in the same way you would use a common verb. It’s not easy), but because you missed the entire point of this post. There are more important things to discuss here (like there usually are when you go off on a grammar nazi tirade). Nearly one sixth of the entire world population uses Facebook; social media is as ubiquitous as Coca Cola. It’s fun to ask rhetorical questions from time to time (I like to watch you guys cut each other’s throats in the comments), but whether or not a tree in the forest makes a sound when no one is around to hear it has no bearing on your ROI. I mean, nobody cared enough to be there when the tree died – you’re going to care about it now?


I hope I didn’t waste too much of your time. I think I may end up saving you several hours over the next year if you decide you agree with me and skip the semantics. Am I really off point here though? Then again, I’ve always thought that a basic understanding of fundamentals gave practitioners an upper hand. Is the definition of social media important for someone to know? Or is knowing social media when you see it good enough?


One comment

  1. Great article! I agree to 100% it’s about things. Social media for me is everything we use for digital communication with focus on collaboration. Social is a verb describing how we are and media is the transmitter usually known for broadcasting. Traditional media is printed or written on papers usually and today’s is digital.

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